Yes, the title of this post is a Philadelphia 76ers reference.
Don’t worry. I’m not about to write some sort of hipster manifesto about how the Browns – a team with no wins, incompetent management, and the Texans 1st and 2nd round draft picks next season – are laughing gleefully at the Texans’ woes. To all those who have pointed that out, a hearty “Deshaun Watson, bro” to you.
But for some people, this article may be like telling a naive 5th grader that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. (Note: That was seriously me. I was 100% convinced that my Uncle Jack – who dressed up as Santa at our house when I was 3 – was the real King Claus. Does my cynicism make sense to you now?) So you might want to put anything valuable down for a moment. Pour yourself a drink. And then listen up.
The Texans season . . . is over. I know. A lot to process.
We smelled the burning meat on the grill last week. It now resembles the Lannister army at the Loot Train battle. And there really isn’t any way to make the rest of this season palatable . . . or even edible. In any way.
The Texans knew what they were getting themselves into by deciding to stick with Tom Savage both before Sunday’s game in Los Angeles and next Sunday against the Cardinals. Yeah, I guess ordering a controversial “pizza” at the last minute might have angered some. After all, watching Deshaun Watson was like eating filet. But for those who value winning, building and improving a Deshaun Watson-centric offense for next season, and/or watchable football, signing T.J. Yates and Josh Johnson was the equivalent of a family splitting a pack of gum for dinner. Everyone is still hungry, AND now angry.
I’m getting depressed writing this article. Also hungry. Let’s pause for a YARLING BREAK while I snack it up.
I’m not going to get into detail about the Texans 33 – 7 loss Sunday. The defense and running attack played well in the first half, but the offense couldn’t close and turned the ball over way too much (Tom Savage: 2 interceptions in the red zone, 2 fumbles). And when the Rams offense finally landed an uppercut – that 94 yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Robert Woods – everything snowballed for Houston.
So now I get back to my super clever title. It’s time to focus on what the Texans should be focusing on for the rest of the season: setting things up for a major push in 2018 with Deshaun Watson [hopefully] healthy. I’ve put together a checklist:
1. Bill O’Brien isn’t the problem, but he’s got to get better: I too am sick of hearing O’Brien blame himself for the Texans struggles. Mainly because it’s not all on him. He’s working with bad quarterbacks and offensive linemen.
I know people are frustrated that his offense hasn’t worked with quarterbacks not named Deshaun Watson. But come on . . . look how good that offense was with Watson as a rookie? He looked SIGNIFICANTLY better than Jared Goff and Carson Wentz in their debuts last year. Do you really want to blow up the coaching staff on the gamble you’ll find someone BETTER than O’Brien? The odds are not great. There are lots of bad coaches out there. Surprisingly, a lot of people seemed willing to roll the dice when I posted O’Brien’s comments on SportsRadio610.com.
That said, O’Brien needs to improve in a lot of ways by the end of the season. I know he hates to hear this, but his game and clock management can certainly improve (as it can for just about every single coach in the NFL). With a [hopefully] healthy Watson back under center next season, he needs to trust Deshaun to win games for him. On the road against teams like the Patriots and Seahawks, he can’t be conservative. Put it on Watson’s shoulders instead of always on your own. Finally, he needs to be a better developer of young talent. I think he’s improved significantly in that category from 2014 to the last 2 seasons, but returns on investment need to happen more quickly, like we’ve seen out of this year’s draft class.
2. Vrabel Able?: Going into this season, many of us believed that if defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel didn’t end up replacing O’Brien in 2018 (after a possibly disastrous season without finding a Deshaun Watson type), he’d be a head coach elsewhere. I don’t think we have to worry about that anymore.
The Texans defense has given up A LOT of big plays this season, especially on third and longs. I’m not really sure what Vrabel can do to make the defense better in those situations, but I don’t remember them being as much of a problem with Romeo Crennel last year.
3. “German Vacations”: I would be really happy if J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Deshaun Watson, Christian Covington, Ryan Griffin and Derek Newton went on a group vacation to Germany together. Interpret that however you may.
4. Filling the Leadership Council: I wasn’t a big fan of the Gary Kubiak era of Houston Texans football. Call me old school or a Patriots homer, but I always felt things were a tad laissez-faire and relaxed. With Bill O’Brien now the Texans head coach, things are obviously different. I’m not blaming former Texans tackle Duane Brown for being a part of that mindset, but his departure is yet another step away from the Texans’ previous culture.
It also means that there is a void at the top of the Texans totem pole as far as leadership is concerned. I’m curious as to who will fill it. Obviously J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, DeAndre Hopkins, and Johnathan Joseph are still members of this imaginary small council (and all were a part of the Kubiak days). Jadeveon Clowney and Deshaun Watson are also there. But with half of those guys done for the season with injuries, it would be natural for younger players to step into that role. If I had to power rank the top 5 players that could fill that void . . .
- D.J. Reader – Early on with this team, Reader was getting compliments from his veteran teammates similar to the ones that we lump on Deshaun Watson.
- Nick Martin – EASILY the Texans’ best offensive lineman (though that isn’t currently saying much)
- Kevin Johnson – More on him in a few moments. He obviously hasn’t played much, but his presence Sunday seemed to give the defense a lot of added energy.
- Lamar Miller – I thought his first half against the Rams was his best first half in a Texans uniform. He looked more decisive than he had in years. Did giving Foreman the rock first light a fire under him?
- Bernardrick McKinney – I can’t confidently say he’s had a down year, but McKinney certainly would have been higher on this list last season.
5. Show Me Anything: Kareem Jackson is a hard nosed cornerback that isn’t afraid to stick people AND is great at timing blitzes. But he has GOT to get better in coverage. Houston’s secondary lacks playmakers. A guy making nearly $9 million both this season and next needs to do more.
Jeff Allen is in that same boat. He’s a guy who has been banged up for much of his time in Houston. But he also isn’t worth the $15 M plus remaining on his contract, which runs through the end of the 2019 season. That is . . . if the Texans don’t part ways from him this offseason, which they can do for just $2.5 M of dead money.
6. Bubble Wrap: We already know what Will Fuller and C.J. Fiedorowicz can do for this offense. Is it really worth risking further injury to either – especially when it comes to Fiedorowicz and concussions – in a season likely heading nowhere?
7. Extended Reps: Hey look, another set of confusing power rankings, this time featuring young guys that I want to see more of:
- CB Kevin Johnson – I’m not sure that ANY of us can really determine what Johnson’s identity as a cornerback is quite yet. After all, he’s missed so many games due to injury. But Sunday’s performance against the Rams were a pretty detailed sign: he’s a hard nosed player that likes to hit people. I’m not sure how viable that is for him giving his frame. Still, he was crushing fools on Sunday.
- RB D’Onta Foreman – How about Foreman getting the first carries of the game? Lamar Miller hasn’t always been particularly adept at making people miss. Foreman doesn’t need to. Obvious statement: At some point over the next two seasons, he will be the Texans’ number one running back option.
- T Julién Davenport – He’s certainly a project, but has a lot of natural talent. And is he that much worse than Chris Clark? Or Breno Giacomini? At some point this season, the guys with potential need to get extended reps.
- C Kyle Fuller – He’s 6’5, and has huge size and length. If you’re going the rest of the season with Tom Savage, why not see if he can protect Savage better than Xavier Su’A Filo or Allen?
- TE Stephen Anderson – Anderson made a couple of tough catches on Sunday, and played well against the Colts after Ryan Griffin’s concussion. If he can develop further, his athleticism could be quite the asset.
- LB Brennan Scarlett – Scarlett is definitely already getting reps. He had the best game of his career against the Rams, with 2 sacks. The Texans need all the pass rushing help they can get without Watt and Mercilus. Hopefully this extended playing time turns him into some quality depth.
- LB Zach Cunningham – He’s already playing a lot, so we’re getting this. I’d like to see a little more production.
- LB Dylan Cole – Was already playing a lot, and was more of a force than Cunningham. Get healthy bro.
- DT Carlos Watkins – Playing. He had an active game against the Rams. Good sign.
- CB Treston Decoud – The Texans depth at cornerback could be a huge problem (see point 8) really soon. Trial by fire can’t hurt him.
- WR Braxton Miller – He doesn’t really deserve to play based off of what we’ve seen from him over nearly two seasons. Still, if you decide to play it safe with Fuller, you may as well throw Miller in the frying pan and call more plays that can use his playmaking ability. Sunday’s wildcat package had to give him a confidence boost.
- Gunner/KR/WR Chris Thompson – He’s sooo damn fast. Give him some reps at wide receiver!
- K Ka’imi Fairbairn – The only way to get out of a kicking slump (0 for his last 2) is to kick your way out of it.
8. Convince J-Joe to Stay – There is only one Texan with an expiring contract that concerns me: Johnathan Joseph. Say what you want about the 33 year old cornerback, but they need him more than ever next season given their depth at cornerback. Kareem Jackson isn’t great in coverage, Kevin Johnson is still a work in progress, and A.J. Bouye is in Jacksonville.
The problem? Does Johnathan Joseph even want to stay in Houston past this season? I’m not so sure about that. The Texans might need to overpay to keep him. I’d consider doing that on a short term deal if I’m Rick Smith, no matter how much he believes in his ability to bring in contributing defensive backs off the street.
9. X to be an ex? – First off, yes.
I’m having a hard time believing that the Texans will give Xavier Su’A Filo a new contract next season, let alone an opportunity to remain left guard going forward. His biggest defenders will argue that he’s just inconsistent. But his failures often lead to disasters, sacks and fumbles especially. Is he going to be able to kill that trend by the end of the season? Doubtful.
10. The Replaceables: Shane Lechler might be able to punt until he’s 1,000. Keep him. And keep safety Eddie Pleasant – who has developed into a skilled blitzer – along with running back Alfred Blue. There is a large anti-Blue contingent out there, but he’s a decisive running back that can pick up the blitz and play special teams too. Anyone who can fill a multitude of roles deserves a shot. I also like what outside linebacker Lamarr Houston has done as a midseason signing.
As for the rest of the 2018 free agents? Tom Savage’s play has done enough talking. Chris Clark and Breno Giacomini have had a lot to do with that. And the Texans two Marcuses (is that a word) – Gilchrist and Williams – haven’t contributed much either.
Paul Gallant hosts “Gallant at Night” – Tuesday 9-11 PM CT, Wednesdays and Fridays 8-11 PM CT – on SportsRadio 610. He also hosts SportsZone Unfiltered – Fridays at 10 PM – on The Kube: Channel 57. Get in touch with Paul via email or his facebook page.